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Foreclosure, bankruptcy or a history of missing payments can send your credit scores into the basement. The good news: nothing is permanent in the world of credit and credit scoring. You can rehabilitate your scores over time if you know how.
Here’s what to do:
Pull your credit reports from all three bureaus. Check for errors and dispute any serious mistakes, such as accounts that aren’t yours or late payments being reported when you paid on time.
If you don’t have any credit cards, apply for a secured card. These cards give you a credit line that’s equal to the amount of cash you deposit with the issuing bank. NerdWallet recommends the Capital One Secured Card and the Orchard Bank Secured Card.
Use your cards lightly but regularly. Your charges shouldn’t total more than about 30% of your credit limit—10% or less would be even better. And you shouldn’t charge more than you can afford to pay off in full every month. Carrying balances doesn’t help your credit scores, and it’s expensive. So don’t do it.
Apply for an installment loan. Your credit scores will recover faster if you have a mix of credit, which means both revolving accounts (credit cards) and installment accounts (mortgages, auto loans, student loans). If you don’t already have an installment loan, consider applying for a personal loan from your local credit union. These member-owned financial institutions often have been rates and more flexible credit standards than traditional banks. Don’t belong to a credit union? You can find one you’re eligible to join here.
Pay your bills on time, all of the time. One skipped payment can devastate your scores. So can an account that’s charged off, or that’s turned over to collections.
You can track your progress by using a credit monitoring service that includes your credit score. Some sites, like Credit Karma, offer credit monitoring for free, although the credit score you get isn’t the FICO score most lenders use. To get your FICO, you’ll need to sign up with MyFico.com.